Haiku Review: The Bridges of Madison County

14 Feb

Well hello there!! I know, I know, it’s been a long time. What can I say, I wandered. But now I am back, awakening this here blog from its long slumber.

I see that the last time I posted it was about ‘Far From Heaven’*, and my final thought was that I couldn’t wait to see the Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale in ‘The Bridges of Madison County’, where they could play a couple who actually wanted to make out with each other instead of the sexless duo of ‘Far From Heaven’. Well, funnily enough on Wednesday I saw Bridges, and BOY HOWDY ARE THOSE TWO GOOD AT PLAYING A COUPLE WHO WANT TO MAKE OUT WITH EACH OTHER. Dayamn!**

But, as we all know, my general philosophy is never to talk about something when I could butcher an ancient form of Japanese poetry about it instead. So without further ado, some Haiku for ‘The Bridges of Madison County’:

It is freezing out
But on mid-45th street
It is steamy hot.

For real, Francesca.
Dump your family and their cow.
You’ve seen Robert’s abs.

So, we all agree
Whitney Bashor is a star
In the making, yes?

If the teenage boys
look like that, Iowa cows
Are full of Muscle Milk.

You know that a show
Has hit your heart when the tears
Start to hit your boobs.

Jason Robert Brown
Between this, Parade, 13…
Uch, I can’t even.

A great love story
For eternity and more
Is me and this show.

*Go back to my haikus about Far From Heaven, the first one absolutely applies here too. That Kelli O’Hara, man. She just sings right to your heart.
**I thought of a line I love regarding this particular heat, but it is far too filthy to post in public and I don’t want to scandalize my proper WASP ancestors. So if you’re curious and you see me around, ask me and I’ll tell you.

Haiku Review: Far From Heaven

2 Jul

Kelli O’Hara
Sings on a stage and I feel
All of the feelings.
 
 
 
The 1950s:
Awful social policies
But awesome dresses.
 
 
 
Elegant outsides
Hide inside pain, but with songs!
So take THAT, Mad Men.
 
 
 
Oh man, I was a mess of ugly crying at the end of ‘Far from Heaven’. I have to say I was skeptical when I first heard it was becoming a musical; it seemed to me like the movie was built around a minute subtlety that I thought would be hard to transfer to the larger scale of a stage. But I thought the same thing about ‘Once’, which only goes to show that I know nothing. Because dang, did they capture it. Kelli O’Hara singing at the end, this beautiful creature trapped in a world where she has everything but any freedom or real human connection, just kneed me right in the feelings.
 
One of the pet causes I developed during grad school was trying to make people understand how the music in a musical functions dramaturgically, adding depth, shading, and meaning to the storytelling of a theater piece (as opposed to just adding something pretty while the action halts, an unfortunate misconception that many people have). I will happily break down how Epiphany from ‘Sweeney Todd’ illustrates the ingredients of a mental breakdown, or talk about how ‘Les Mis’ uses a repeated melody to underline two characters’ connection, at pretty much the drop of a hat. ‘Far From Heaven’ has another beautiful example. Kelli O’Hara plays Cathy Whitaker, a suburban housewife with a picture-perfect life; a beautiful house, an admiring social circle, two children, and a seemingly loving marriage to a successful businessman. But as it begins to unravel, the only person that she finds herself able to talk to is her black gardener, Raymond.
 
Cathy’s songs in the first act are lovely, the melodies pretty and the rhythms precise. But when Cathy takes Raymond’s offer of a drive into the countryside and she begins to open up to him, her song changes. The rhythm relaxes, loosening into something with a gentle swing to it, as she tells Raymond the truth about her life and her feelings. It’s the first time we’ve heard anything like this from Cathy, and we know by hearing it that something is different; that being with Raymond allows Cathy to relax in a way she can’t in the rest of her life.
 
It’s a lovely moment, a musical illustration of a connection that might be hard to enact on the larger scale of the stage. And I’m sure there are others – Scott Frankel and Michael Korie are smart smart writers who engage the heart as much as the head. I look forward to listening to the album. And to buying dresses from the ‘I know they’re representative of a crippling social repression and living as a beautiful object to be displayed but they’re still fucking GORGEOUS’ tie-in fashion line that I seriously hope the show launches, because dang.
 
 
 
P.S. I can’t write a haiku about Steven Pasquale, because I don’t know if his last name has two syllables or three (seriously, every time I say his name I go “Steven Pasqual…ee?” Somebody tell me what it actually is!). But it would be about how he’s very good in this, as evidenced by this gorgeous thing and how I’m glad that he and Kelli O’Hara will be starring in ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ together, so they can play beautiful people who actually want to make out with each other.

Sally Struthers and the Other Best Walking Video of the Summer

25 Jun

Oh sure, everyone’s been watching the Prancercise video that’s been making the rounds of the internet. But let’s be honest, guys, there’s a lot that video leaves out about walking for fitness. Like for example, the question of how the different genders should dress in order to most effectively master that strange excercisal mid-range between striding and galumphing? Sally Struthers, luckily, made a video that I think answers that quite nicely:

 

If you’re a woman, just follow Sally’s lead and wear something just a scooch more conservative than a Victorian bathing costume, but made out of sweatsuit. But if you’re a man, well, that’s a whole other thing. I don’t have male genitalia myself, but I would imagine that it’s a tricky balance to find when you’re going to be doing an activity as hip-swinging as fitness walking. You must find a way to carefully cradle your man bits in enough fabric to protect them, with just enough tension to make sure that they are held as taut as peaches in a plastic grocery bag. However, you don’t want to clog up your moving legs with any extraneous fabric, and every good bridge maker knows that you must leave flexibility for movement or the entire structure might just snap. And, let’s be honest, if you’re doing an activity as manly as fitness walking, you want to make sure you get a little biological display in there. So, you should show off your rampant masculinity to the ladies by making sure they can see the full outline of your own Sally and the Struthers, if you get what I’m sayin’.

I think we can all agree that these dudes have fully mastered the wearing of the fitness walking shorts. With not a whisper more fabric than is absolutely necessary to swath their personal prancercisers, these shorts say both “I am the stallion who will mount the world” and “please focus on anything besides the walk that I am doing.”

But you needn’t have worried, guys. After all, there are plenty of dudes who have triumphed in much longer pants with much sillier walks:

 

 

P.S. a big thank you to Isaac for exposing me to this wonder.

Haiku Review (sort of): The Explorers Club

21 Jun

Okay guys, I have a confession to make. I have been attempting to write Haiku Reviews for The Explorers Club for about an hour now, and failing miserably. This can be traced to two different causes:

1. I went to the opening last night so my brain has gone into hangover mode, which is pretty much a dull staring autopilot directing me towards the nearest source of carbs and cheese.

2. It is really hard to write haiku for shows I love. This is a natural outcropping of the idea that it’s just plain harder to write a review for something you love; when there are flaws you can discuss what doesn’t work, how the pieces don’t fit, what they’re maybe attempting. But a good review is more like “man, how good was that? And you know what works about it? Everything.” So my haikus are pretty much a series of me effusively slobbering all over this play in a manner that’s not particularly witty or wise. Because, to put it simply, I just adore this play. I’m a little biased, as the director is a good friend of mine, but even if that weren’t the case I’m pretty sure I would have felt the same way.

It’s a rare and delightful thing when you see something that feels as though it was written just for you. The Explorers Club, which is a hilarious and nerdy-smart comedy about science set in the time of corsets, basically only needs Muppets and Benedict Cumberbatch to be my perfect thing. And it is pure delight – oh my god, you guys, this cast (David Furr! DAVID FURR!! Genius.) and the jokes! – I replay some of them in my head just to amuse myself (charades!! You’ll know what I’m talking about).  I like to think it’s a play I would have written, if I were much much smarter, much much funnier, and much much MUCH better at writing plays than I am. But luckily I don’t need to be any of those things, because Nell Benjamin already is the smartest and the funniest and the best at writing, so I can just be her shrieking fangirl and tell you all that if you enjoy reading this blog, you’ll probably love this play. And you’ll probably see me there, since I’m pretty sure I can convince MTC to sell me some sort of fun pass for its run.

Alright, drooling-on-the-couch-while-hoping-the-aspirin-kicks-in beckons, so I will leave you with this, since I promised a haiku:

 

There’s a new entry
Into the exalted ranks
Of my favorite things.

Something I Never Noticed Before about ‘The Phantom of The Opera’

14 Jun

I forgot one thing from my Tony Awards thoughts round-up: a realization I had while watching the number from ‘The Phantom of the Opera’.

First of all, I love Phantom (no really, I do – my friend Dave and I went back this year to see Sierra Boggess and both became unironically re-obsessed with the show). However, I don’t know about you guys watching at home, but from the house that number sounded as tinned as a can of SPAM. I’m sure those guys can actually really sing, but I think Dave and I could have lip-synced it and been just as convincing, considering how piped in it sounded (by the way, Dave and I are totally available to lip-sync the entire show, anytime).

BUT, that is not what I came on here to say. What I actually noticed was the lyric “and though you turn from me to glance behind”. How can she be turning from him to glance behind? He’s behind her on the boat! She’d have to sort of lean to the side and look around him to glance behind, which wouldn’t really be turning from him. So, to be accurate, the lyric would have to be “and though you crane your head to glance behind” or “and though you scooch ’round me to glance behind.”  Or, alternately, the lyric could be “and though you turn from me to glance in front,” which I suppose is much lamer.

They’ve sort of half solved it with the staging, which points the boat upstage on the lyric.  That means the boat is facing back the way they came, and she is indeed turning from him to glance behind on their journey. However, this messes up the suspension of disbelief that the Phantom is piloting the boat through many dark cavernous passageways, since if she’s indeed looking back the way they came, he definitely just piloted them in a big old circle. Which is possible – I mean, he is wearing a mask on one eye, it’s possible he has really bizarre peripheral vision and has a hard time going forward (especially with a steering device that only goes on one side of the boat, and a wide, short boat – those things are impossible to make go straight), or that he just wants to show off all the pretty candles that it probably took him forever to light.

Here, take a gander for yourself – the boaty goodness starts at about 3:10:

But hey, it could be much worse: in the movie, the Phantom sings that lyric having just put Christine on the horse that INEXPLICABLY LIVES IN THE UNDERGROUND CATACOMBS OF THE PARIS OPERA HOUSE, FULLY TACKED, AND PROCEEDS TO TAKE CHRISTINE ABOUT FORTY FEET THAT SHE COULD HAVE VERY EASILY WALKED HERSELF. So really, whether she’s looking back or not is the least of the logical problems at that moment.

 

By the way, this might be the first in a new blog series calls ‘Anika Overthinks Theater’.

More Awards for the Tony Awards

12 Jun

I think we can all agree, this year Broadway’s biggest night was BAD. ASS. Back at Radio City after a few years at the Beacon, the Tony Awards managed to fill the gigantic space with pure theater joy. I was lucky enough to be watching from the orchestra seats (right behind Jesse Eisenberg! You can sort of see my left ear and shoulder in a really quick shot, so I’m basically a famous person now, FYI). The show was delightful from there too – no small feat considering you are sitting in your seat for four plus hours straight, and it’s hot under those lights, and so most people are just sweaty hangry spanxy messes by the end.

Despite all the awards handed out during the show, I felt that there were some awards left hanging. So, I thought I would step in to fill that void with some awards of my own. Thus, without further ado:

Best Avoidance of Misuse of Power: Neil Patrick Harris

Can we just agree that Neil Patrick Harris is the best host of anything ever? I mean, seriously, the dude did like seven things in the opening number that the vast majority of regular humans cannot do, and he did a lot of them at the same time. And yet the entire time he made it seem like piking through hoops and being lifted by cheerleaders while also singing and being incredibly charming was the easiest thing ever. At the end of that number (which made me cry with pure Broadway love upon rewatching), the audience in Radio City had so collectively lost their minds with the overwhelming face-melting joy of it all that Neil Patrick Harris could have commanded us all to do pretty much whatever he wanted, and we would have done it – crowd-surfed the cast out like we were a giant mosh pit, opened our wallets, stormed the barricade, murdered Michael Reidel. Instead he just kept on hosting the show, like a BOSS.

Tony Loss Most Personally Upsetting To Anika Chapin: Bertie Carvel

This isn’t to take anything away from Billy Porter, who is amazing and deserves prizes. But dang, Bertie Carvel created another species of human being on that stage, and it was one of my favorite performances of all time.

Tony Performance Most Representative of the Show Itself: Motown

Motown’s performance started out great – fun dancing and singing of songs everybody loves. And then, much like the show itself, it got to the point where you thought “well that was fun, I suppose it should be wrapping up now,” and there proceeded to be many more long minutes of performance, on a diminishing scale of funness. Motown, you’ve got some great stuff in you, but you are too. Fucking. Long.

Most Mystifying to an Entire Audience/viewing Public: The Rascals

What the hell WAS that?! Maybe I was distracted by Steve Van Zandt’s ‘I Am My Own Wife’ headscarf, but there was a distinct aura of confusion in the house when The Rascals did their performance. The show itself was a bit of a mystery – it just popped up one day in a theater like a strange psychedelic Brigadoon – and I don’t think the performance helped clarify anything. So it’s about… a band? It IS the band? There’s some trippy projections and someone from The Sopranos? Is the entire show an immersive experience to simulate an acid trip? Inquiring minds want to know.

Best Argument for Immediate Casting as a Comedic Character in a Comedy: Laura Benanti

That TV number was genius, and all four of its participants were great. But damn, Laura Benanti is HILARIOUS. And yet, she’s most often cast as the sweet, sort-of-ditsy female straight man. She’s a talented actress, so I’m not saying she doesn’t also do that well, but come ON, people. Just because she’s gorgeous doesn’t mean she and her genius comedy instincts couldn’t be the smart funny lead of her own show. Get with it, producers and TV execs.

Best Argument for Immediate Casting as a Batman Villain: Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson proved herself a legend with with her moving and dignified acceptance speech, and she proved herself a legend twice over by pulling off a dress no other human being on the planet could possibly rock:

But I can’t help but think that she would be triply legendary if she wore this exact look straight on over to Gotham City. Think about it: she could be the regal Lady Aubergine, capable of hypnotizing the good people of Gotham with her velvet voice and dignified dramatic pauses, only to kill them with poison darts from her ruffles.

Best Embodiment of the Full Variety of Sexiness: Scarlet Johansson and Alan Cumming

   Big props to both of these guys for being so funny and gracious about not being nominated, but also, dayamn!! With ScarJo in black and Alan Cumming in white, they were like the yin and yang of sexy: completely opposite types, one lush and voluptuous, one skinny and unusual, but both possessed of that ineffable juju that makes everyone in the world want to do it to them.

Best Visual Description of a Weird Problem with Broadway: the NINETY BILLION PRODUCERS onstage with every show. 

  Sweet lord jeebus, there were a ton of people accepting awards for the winning shows! I counted 26 people for ‘Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf’, a show that featured a cast of four people. I know the economics of producing Broadway are getting increasingly complicated, but it feels like if we keep going this way it’ll just be easier to put the camera on the audience and have everyone who DIDN’T produce the show raise their hands.

Best Accessorizing of a Tony: Fran Weissler

  She won a shiny silver Tony for the stellar revival of ‘Pippin’, and it happened to go perfectly with her awesome and gigantic necklace. Whether she had won or not, that is the necklace of a winner. Or a queen from an exotic kingdom on ‘Game of Thrones’, which is pretty much the same thing.

Just the Best: NPH, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tommy Kail, and Audra McDonald. 

   Just, blargh, you guys. This quartet – my brain can’t form worthy words. Between the opening number, the final rap, the sassiness with which Audra McD chimed in, there’s just too much goodness here, so I’ll let their final moment speak for itself:

My Picks for the Next Dr. Who

7 Jun

It’s been a long rainy afternoon, which means that I felt pretty good about giving up any pretense of productivity and making a butt-shaped dent in the couch while I watched multiple hours of ‘Dr. Who’. I’m a latecomer to the series, so I’m still pretty far behind – I’m wrapping up Season 4 now – but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have oh so many feelings about it. Like, Donna Noble! So awesome! And really, the Daleks are the superkillers of this world? Because they are pretty much just giant bumpy traffic cones whose weapons are a whisk and a plunger. I mean, how about the invisible piranhas that live in the shadows and pick your bones clean when you walk out of the light? Those things are terrifying!

Anyhoo, it was recently announced that Matt Smith, who plays the most recent incarnation of the Doctor (because if you don’t watch the show, it has a BRILLIANT built-in ‘we can run forever’ device, which is that the Doctor can regenerate himself, allowing new actors to take over the role every few years) is leaving the show. That means it’s time to find a new Doctor, and the internet is abuzz. And because I went down a significant Dr. Who rabbit hole this afternoon, I now feel qualified to add my own two cents to a world FULL of cents.

Judging from the previous actors they have hired to play the Doctor, here are some elements that seem to be likely for whoever comes next:

1. Male

The Doctor can technically take a number of different forms, but so far all eleven incarnations have been dudes. There’s been some support to have the next Doctor be a woman, which, lets be honest, would be awesome and long overdue. However, there are elements of the Dr. Who universe that would make having a female Doctor more complicated than just having a lady running the TARDIS. Beyond just the very present (and lame) excuse of ‘tradition’, the biggest hurdle is that the Doctor (spoiler!) has a female wife. Although the showrunners of the show have said they would welcome a woman Doctor (and the show has been progressive in its portrayal of sexualities, most notably in the bisexual (or pansexual) Captain Jack Harkness), I would imagine that the BBC would still be gun shy about having their most massive shows feature a lesbian relationship at its core. Also, judging from the soul-crushing vitriol in internet comments, lots of fans are, shall we say, resistant. Also, horrible people, because YIKES you guys.

2. A Theater and TV Background

Judging from the new incarnations, casting directors are looking at actors who have legit stage credits (especially in Shakespeare and classics) as well as some roles in television series. Movies don’t seem to be a direct line to the TARDIS.

3. Moderate Fame

All three of the latest Doctors weren’t hugely famous when they were cast. They were more like “oh, THAT guy!” I’d expect that the next Doctor will follow the same route – established enough to be known, but not so famous that viewers will have to shake off previous roles to buy him as the Doctor. Benedict Cumberbatch is too famous. Dominic Cooper and Idris Elba probably are as well. Even Ben Whishaw, whose name has come up quite a bit, might be too famous.

4. 35+

The Doctors are getting younger; Christopher Eccleston is 49, David Tennant is 42, and Matt Smith is only 30. Since traditionally the Doctors have skewed older, I would imagine that they don’t want to continue the trend of Merlin-like backwards aging, and will choose someone a little older than Matt Smith, at least.

5. A Sense of Fun

Yes, he’s a pacifist and a time-traveler and filled with inner pain, but let’s be honest; everyone likes the Doctor more when he’s funny. Christopher Eccleston, the first of the new reincarnations, is an actor who naturally reads more sinister and dangerous, and whenever he smiled his big “I’m having fun!” smile you just thought he was about to snap and murder someone. Which, when the Doctor is supposed to be the guy in the universe you can trust the most, isn’t great.

6. White?

This is the biggest question. All the Doctors so far have been white, but in a show that values literally the diversity of the universe, this seems peculiar. There’s been a lot of pressure to feature an actor who isn’t Caucasian, and since they probably aren’t going to cast a woman there’s a very good chance this is where they’ll expand the canon.

7. British

Duh. Do YOU want to be the nation that has the entire UK coming after you because one of your actors got the role that is so essentially British it might as well be stamped on the top of every McVitie’s? I thought not.

 

So, will all this in mind, here are my picks for who actually might be coming out of the TARDIS next, in no particular order:

1.   Ben Daniels

This name has been bandied about all over the place, because it makes total sense. Except for the whole ‘another white Doctor’ thing, Daniels ticks every box of a likely Doctor: he’s older, has lots of stage and TV credits while still being not immediately recognizable, and is sexy and funny while still being sweet.

2. Adrian Lester

He’s got the stage cred (and, like David Tennant, famously played Hamlet), he’s got the talent, he’s got the looks, and – bonus – he apparently shares the Doctor’s inability to age, because that dude is 44. 44!!! A Time Lord indeed.

He’s basically standing in front of a TARDIS. I mean, come on.

3. Oliver Chris

This probably won’t happen because he’s too similar to Matt Smith, but how great would the tall bedimpled star from ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ and the British ‘The Office’ be as the Doctor? He’s a goofy/sweet stage actor with comedy chops for days – a great combo. Also, the dimples. Oh, the dimples.

4. Domhnall Gleeson

   The same age as Matt Smith (although he reads even younger), Domhnall Gleeson is a great choice if they want to continue the youthful trend. He’s insanely charming and has the stage credits (remember him in ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’? He was HILARIOUS) and feels like he’s just the right level of fame to play the Doctor – he’s teetering on the precipice of being the Next Big Thing, so why not confirm it? However, he’s more of a boy than a man, and he’s still white (although he is a redhead, which people sometimes seem to think is some sort of weird other category unto itself – I guarantee you that if he is announced as the next Time Lord there will be headlines extolling the first Ginger Doctor).

5. Irrfan Khan

   Come on, if this man beckoned you into his traveling police box to travel the universe, would you go? Of course you would, because Irrfan Khan is the best. He’s a bigger star than anyone else on this list, for sure, but he still hasn’t quite broken into the British and American market in the way he has already in his native India. But it feels like only a matter of time; he is an incredibly talented actor, who effortlessly projects a fundamental decency and heartbreaking vulnerability at the same time. You would instantly believe that his Doctor carries the weight of his destroyed world with him always, and yet you’d trust whatever he says. He’s not technically British, but this would be a really cool nod to the UK’s large Indian population.

6. Stephen Mangan

  I was going to stop at five, but then remembered Stephen Mangan, who would be SO perfect. I mean, right?

7. Jennifer Ehle

  Screw what I said before about not having a woman Doctor, because JENNIFER FUCKING EHLE. Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t want to watch Jennifer Ehle play any role at all? There cannot be, because Jennifer Ehle is the shit. That is all.

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